Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Bavinger House: Art Meets Architecture

What happens when an eclectic artist meets an equally eclectic architect?  The answer lies in the Bavinger House in Norman, Oklahoma.  In 1950, artist and teacher Eugene Bavinger asked architect Bruce Goff to design a home that would reflect his artistic spirit- novel and without boundaries.  What resulted is a home unlike any other.  Goff was Chairman of the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, and he already had the famous Art Deco masterpiece Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa to his credit. His years at the university were during what many consider his creative peak. Bavinger is credited with perfecting an acrylic glass-on-canvas technique that created paintings exceptionally fluid and reflective.  It was preordained that the Bavinger House would be special indeed.  The dream was realized in 1955 when the house was completed.  From ground level, the house tightly spirals toward the heavens around a large iron pipe in the middle. The structure is held together and supported inside and out with cables.  A bridge on one side is a counterbalance to stabilize the house.  Save the bathroom and the kitchen, there are no real rooms in the Bavenger House.  The interior is open throughout, a fish pond winds through the living area.  The bedrooms hang from the ceiling and once featured wrap-around curtains that could be closed for privacy.  The closets are large, round military surplus bomb shipping containers.  The house was finished the year Bob Bavinger was born and it was a Valentine present for his mother.  For a youngster, it was a giant playhouse.  He told me, "If you wanted to be a little monkey and run around, it was truly fun to grow up in. Originally the fish pond that’s here came all the way over and from my two and three year old days, I played with the fish in my stroller in the fish pond, so that was a lot of fun.  We had a duck and it was in the fish pond a lot."  Bavinger admits that it wasn't like everyone's house, but it was a home where one could have as much or as little privacy as they desired.  At times, the house is almost magical.  Goff left the interior rock walls in their natural condition and the ledges of stone in the living area became shelves where orchids were displayed.  Large chunks of green glass are set in the walls and when the sun is right, they glow.
Some consider Bavinger House Goff's finest creation while others wonder if it was even a liveable structure.  Bob Bavinger says it was, and he is fulfilling a promise he made to his mother and father to open the house for tours.  Some of Eugene Bavinger's paintings are displayed in the house and Bob says his parents wanted people to appreciate his father as an artist and Goff as an architect; two incredibly creative people who merged their talents to bring to life one of the world's unique dwellings.  He has created the Bavinger House Conservancy, a non-profit organization to raise money for the upkeep of the landmark home.  He intends, he says, to preserve, "an alternative way to live, compared to what some people call ticky-tacky boxes."
There is no chance that Bavinger House will ever be mistaken for a ticky-tacky box.

All photographs by Ron Stahl
Bavinger House Conservancy


  1. Wow! What an amazing house! I would love to explore it. Thanks for showing it!

  2. I studied Art with Gene. He traditionally invited his Art classes to an end of year party. I visited twice.:-)

  3. It has been demolished, unfortunately.